This is now the seventh article in this series on All-Sufficiency. In our last article we attempted to prove that the church, by its verv nature, is inevitably all all-sufficient organization. Previously, we studied what the mission of the church is, and demonstrated that no one can add one act to this prescribed mission. At this point in our study we are ready to investigate whether or not the church is sufficient for the discharge of its prescribed mission. A believer ordinarily would not think that there would be the necessity of proving this point before other believers. Yet this has been one of the chief battlegrounds for over a century, and bids fair to maintain this significance for at least another generation. The church’s work is limited to evangelism, edification, and benevolence. There are both those who explicitly and those who implicitly deny the adequacy of the church to fulfill its mission. In this lesson we will consider only the all-sufficiency of the church in evangelism.
The importance of the mission of the church in evangelism is emphasized by a recognition of the following facts:
1. Man is lost in sin (Isa. 59:1, 2; Ezek. 18:20; Luke 19:10; Rom. 6:23; 2 Thess. 1:7, 8 ; Rom. 3:23). Every person that has reached the age of responsibility before God has transgressed the divine law. The moment a person commits his first sin, he then stands condemned. Men often attempt to exonerate some who live in certain distant countries of any guilt. But these, too, have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. These persons are not lost simply because they have not heard and obeyed the gospel; they are lost because they have sinned.
2. The gospel is God’s only power of salvation in this age. (Rom. 1:16; Jas. 1:21; I Pet. 1:22, 23; 1 Cor. 4:15; 1 Tim. 2:4; Pet. 1:3, 4). This is a point which ought not need to be proved to a people who has had the Bible as long as have we. I suppose God could have chosen to save people in some other way had He so desired, but the fact is He chose to save men by the foolishness of preaching (I Cor. 1:21). God has no other power of salvation in this age. Realizing that men are lost in sin, and that the Gospel is God’s only power unto salvation in this age, we therefore should be more zealous in our effort to prosecute this aspect of the mission of the church to evangelize the world.
3. The church is God’s missionary society — God’s chosen means of getting the gospel to the lost. And just as the gospel is God’s only power of salvation, the church is God’s only organization to take the gospel to the lost. God has purpose for the church (Eph. 3:8-11). The purpose of God for His church is its mission. A part of that purpose is to “build up” the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11, 12). This involves the preaching of the word of the kingdom that others might be brought into it. I think I am safe in saying that in addition to the responsibility to worship, this preaching responsibility is the primary responsibility of the church. We learn from the Bible that the church is:
a. God’s sowing agency. Jesus says “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man that sowed good seed in his field” (Matt. 13:24). The church is therefore God’s sowing agency, and it is the only agency that He put here for that purpose. However, the church being a product of God, He need not put any other agency here with that purpose, for His products are perfect for the accomplishment of the divine purpose assigned them.
b. God’s sending agency. “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that was a householder, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard” (Matt. 20:1). These being hired, he “sent” them to their work. The church is likened unto this man who “sent” them to their work. In Acts11:22 we see an example of this being done. “And the report concerning them came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas as far as Antioch.” God’s church is His only sending agency.
c. God’s supporting agency. In I Tim. 3:14, 15 the church is said to be the pillar and support of the truth. The church is that which stands under the truth-that which upholds, supports the truth. I think this is to be significance of the statement in Rev. 1:20 that “the seven candlesticks are seven churches.” A candlestick is that which holds forth the light. The churches are that which hold forth the glorious light of the gospel. Of course, when one stands under the truth, he supports it. When one supports the truth, this involves the support of those who proclaim the truth. So Paul says “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you” (2 Cor. 11:8). In Phil. 4, Paul declares that the Philippian church had fellowship with him in the beginning of the gospel. They sent once and again to support him. God put no other institution here who’s business it is to support the gospel.
Having learned that God assigned to the church the work of sowing the seed of the kingdom, of sending forth and supporting gospel preachers, we inquire further to see if the church was sufficient to accomplish these assignments. We need also to observe that God made no provision for the church universal to function as a single unit. The only functioning organization about which one can read is a local church. The congregation is the organizational arrangement God provided to see that the gospel is preached. When we say the church is sufficient to preach the gospel, other than that work done by the individual Christian (and the individual is not an institution), we mean the congregation is sufficient to evangelize the world.
It requires but little investigation of the Bible to learn that the churches did accomplish what God meant for them to do. If so, these churches of necessity were sufficient for this task. I Thess. 1:3-8 relates how the church at Thessalonica had “sounded forth the word of the Lord.” Phil. 1:3-5 states that the Philippian church had “fellowship in furtherance of the gospel” by supporting Paul. They sent once and again to his need (Phil. 4:14-20). Acts 11:22 declares that the Jerusalem church sent forth Barnabas. We know the churches can do these things because churches did do these things. Someone has said that what has been done can be done. In this instance, verily it is true. Within about thirty years after the founding of the church, the apostle Paul said the gospel had been preached to every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23). The organization that God provided was efficient in the New Testament times. If so, the same organization will work now.
We believe the church has been restored to its pristine order. If so, the same organization that the church in the scriptures had is present today. If that organization was sufficient then, it is sufficient now. Brethren never began seeking to build another organization for evangelistic work until they lost faith in sufficiency of that organization the Lord provided. It matters not how loud one may shout that he believes that the church is sufficient, so long as he erects another organization to do the work assigned to the church. His practice counterbalances and neutralizes what he says. He is not practicing what he is preaching. The brethren never built a missionary society until they lost faith in the sufficiency of the church to preach the gospel. Brethren likewise never would have built the existing benevolent societies had they maintained their faith in the sufficiencv of God’s church in benevolence.
The missionary society devotees simply asserted that the congregation could not get the tremendous task of taking the gospel into the entire world accomplished. They believed the congregations had failed. Pardee Butler (1816-1888), a preacher who spent much of his time working in Kansas, and who always was a society man said “It is perfectly apparent that to harmonize these elements-often opposite and conflicting-thus brought together in one body was no easy task, but we had more than this to do; we were also to harmonize the fierce antagonisms growing out of our early contests, and then to make these brethren who had been heretofore averse to any combination whatever for religious work other than that of a single congregation-to make them feel the absolute necessity of united action and cooperation. This was indeed a task most difficult.” Personal Recollections of Pardee Butler, pp. 260, 261. You note that he says there were some brethren who were averse to any religious work other than that of a single congregation. But he does not undertake to find such a work greater than that of a single congregation being done in the Bible. His search would have been futile. Nevertheless, Brother Butler felt these united actions and cooperations were an “absolute necessity.” So also do some brethren today feel such united action to be an “absolute necessity,” though obviously they would defend it on the basis that it is only an expedient.
Having lost faith in the sufficiency of the congregation (God’s organizational provision) to accomplish the evangelistic tasks, men set about to supplement that which was lacking in God’s provisions. They set in motion the attitude that eventuated in the establishment of the American Christian Missionary Society, an institution that by its very existence stands as a monument to the loss of faith by brethren in the sufficiency of God’s plan. Seemingly it never occurred to these brethren that the lack of work being done might be caused by their lack of zeal and work in activating God’s plan. Thev exonerated themselves of all guilt. The failure must be God’s. We are guiltless, so they reasoned. God having failed, arrogant men then undertook to succeed where God had been unable to succeed. They could provide that which God either could not or would not provide-i.e., an adequate organization. But one can no more add to the organization of the church without impunity than can one add to the Bible or the worship of the church without guilt.
Next month we want to see something of the establishment of this evangelistic crutch known in history as the American Christian Missionary Society, and the arguments by which brethren would defend it.
Truth Magazine IV:12, pp. 5-7